When Elizabeth Stephenson ’19 visited a small coastal town in France with her boyfriend, she knew the fact that she didn’t speak a word of French might be an issue.
What she didn’t know was that the language barrier would keep her from accessing an essential hair product.
“I really wanted conditioner, and I did not know what they use as conditioner in France,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson and her boyfriend searched throughout the town, which consisted of a few stores, a bakery and a couple restaurants – but to no avail.
“We were looking up the words for [conditioner] and trying to describe it, but no one seemed to know what we were talking about,” Stephenson said. “They just didn’t sell it at the store.”
Stephenson’s search took her to a hotel, where she paid two euros for conditioner and received tiny hotel-sized bottles of shampoo instead. She describes the ordeal as a puzzling but funny experience.
“Our stay there was really comical, because it was just us not really knowing what was going on,” Stephenson said. “It definitely makes a difference if you can speak the language of where you’re going or have some sort of background, but part of the fun is going to a place where you don’t know much and seeing what’s going on.”
Rome, Venice and Lake Como in Italy, Philadelphia and Chicago in the United States and Étretat, France, are all destinations Stephenson and her boyfriend have checked off their list. Stephenson takes travel as an opportunity to enjoy the breaks she has during college.
“I’m trying to take advantage of the fact that I have a lot more time off than I would if I was in a job, which I will be when I graduate,” Stephenson said. “Traveling is something that I’m always happy to spend money on.”
Traveling across the globe, especially to Western Europe, gives Stephenson a new perspective on history, especially while attending college in an area that is so historically important.
“Colonial Williamsburg is very historic for American standards,” Stephenson said. “[But after] going somewhere in Italy where it’s like, ‘This is thousands of years old and the Roman Empire was here,’ … Colonial Williamsburg is so new.”
Initially, Stephenson wanted to bring a sticker back from each place she traveled to. After a few trips out of the country, she quickly realized that finding stickers in Europe was harder than expected and switched to a different plan.
“I started getting pins for my backpack, and then I started getting tote bags,” Stephenson said. “I put the [tote bags] up in my room or use them every once in a while; I use them to put stuff in while I’m [at the location].”
For Stephenson, pre-trip planning usually entails the logistics: deciding between a flight or car ride to get where she needs to go. She finds that over-planning her trips makes them more tiring than exciting.
“I used to try to find [restaurants] before I went somewhere, and just never ended up actually going to those places, and it took some of the fun out of it. So, I try not to delve too much into the details,” Stephenson said. “But it’s definitely fun to look at the most popular things to do; TripAdvisor has some good intel on it.”
One of the most important aspects of travel for Stephenson is living in the moment and making the most of her time in a new place.
“The hard part about going through a lot of great experiences is when you’re doing it, a lot of the time you’re like, ‘Am I getting the most out of this?’” Stephenson said. “Staying present in that sort of moment is something I’ve been working on, not even just when I travel but also [as a] second semester senior at William and Mary. How do you enjoy that but also not stress about enjoying it?”
Stephenson is planning to travel to Portugal over spring break, and she hopes to have at least a month of free time after graduation before her new job starts to travel to Amsterdam, Southern England or Croatia. She is also open to traveling outside of Western Europe to Budapest, Hungary or Prague, Czech Republic or visiting slightly closer to home in California.
Stephenson is also a senior station manager for WCWM, the College of William and Mary’s student-run radio station on 90.9 FM, with a reach spanning from Richmond to Newport News. The station broadcasts 24 hours a day and has a staff of about 15 directors and 30 DJs. Stephenson made the decision to get involved with broadcasting as part of a pact with a close friend.
“My best friend in high school and I both knew that we wanted to do college radio because that’s something that’s not really available at the high-school level, but seems like a cool thing to get involved with,” Stephenson said. “She went to a different school and got involved with her radio station, and I sought out WCWM.”
As senior station manager, Stephenson manages events hosted by WCWM, including WCWM Fest and other musical events. During her junior year she served as junior station manager and performed similar duties, as well as making outlines for and running meetings and attending media council. She has found her time as part of WCWM to be extremely rewarding.
“I’ve always liked music and going to concerts, but I never really had any other experience beyond that; I was just interested to see what WCWM had to offer,” Stephenson said. “It turned out to really align with my interests, and I really enjoyed the people there and helped out with some of the events we put on, [and I] wanted to continue doing it.”
Stephenson has a show on WCWM which airs Thursdays from 6-7 p.m. She plays whatever music resonates with her in the moment and talks casually for fun. She likes listening to female artists like Angel Olson, Stevie Nicks and Lucy Dacus, in addition to pop, acoustic, folksy and top-100 songs.
During her sophomore year, Stephenson got extremely involved with efforts to bring Frankie Cosmos to perform at the College, and she now looks back on that time as a flashbulb memory during which she realized she wanted to get more involved with WCWM. She appreciates the autonomy available at the College and within WCWM and feels that the independence has given her the opportunity to take the lead on events that she is passionate about.
“In my perspective, students have a lot of control over what they can do in their positions and organizations; WCWM is entirely student-run except for things where we have to go through the administration,” Stephenson said. “I definitely liked being able to really have an idea, execute that idea, and run the event. If you have an idea and you want to do something, you can get that done, which is really cool to see.”